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Locally-Sponsored Events

Tim Richardson

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My mastermind group is considering holding a professional development event in which we would invite local businesses to sponsor. Each of us would present on our respected areas of expertise to our local business community. While a profit would be nice, one of our key goals is to obtain more local business and build some relationships for future business. We would love to hear from others who have successfully held such an event and hear about factors which made it successful (or if not successful, what factors contributed to that as well).

-- Donald Cooper

My two suggestions are

  1. Tie the event into a charity or cause that is likely to "grab" your target audience. "All proceeds go to..." adds a level of humanity that looks good on you and, as a practical matter, if you work at it a bit, you can get good media support for and coverage of your event because it's for a cause. Last year I participated in two such events which have resulted in several bookings.
  2. Invite undergrad and MBA business students to attend, perhaps at a reduced fee, or no charge. Mention that in the program and welcome them, as a group, at the beginning. This also makes you look good to the business community for your generosity in passing on your knowledge to the business people of tomorrow. The students also have an opportunity to network with business leaders in their community which can be helpful to them in the future.

All of this creates a whole different level of energy and emotional connectivity to the event that transforms it to a different level...and starts to look like an annual event in the business community that folks look forward to.

-- Warren Evans

We've done a series of across Canada. It's a way to go about getting support behind it, and positioning yourselves well in that target communities mind.

-- Robert Bradford

  1. The copy you write for your promo piece is critical. Even for a local event, no one will show up if they don't see the event as a way to learn about dealing with a compelling business issue.
  2. Snail mail promotion has become a sure-fire way to drain profit from a program like this. The last time we did this we spent $15,000 on snail mail and got ONE attendee. You will do much better in the local market by networking for attendees, especially if you also use email and free speaking to bolster the word of mouth.
  3. The local market has a very different price point from the national market. You can get 20-100 people to spend $50 in the local market easily, but $500 is a hard sell. Nationally promoted programs command significantly higher prices -- even Careertrack programs typically start at $195, and college and university programs average about $500-$900 per day.
  4. For local programs, go to local Chamber of Commerce functions and see who is spending a lot there. Chances are you will see printers, insurance companies, financial planners, realtors, and accounting firms. Those are the kind of people you should approach for sponsorship.
  5. If you don't do this already, you should start tracking your audience/client conversion ratio. I know, for example, that I can make $25,000 in sales to every 8 people attending one of my programs. This tells me that I can be comfortable losing as much on a 16-person program as I would otherwise spend to generate $50,000 in sales through other channels. For example, a bureau would cost me $12,500 for the same result (if they were able to deliver that kind of sales), so a $500 per person loss on a 16-person program is a better promotional deal than a speakers bureau, for me.
  6. Make sure you attract real economic buyers to your program, not people looking for something to do during their lunch hour. I sometimes turn down opportunities to speak on programs that will have no top management types in the audience, but I will jump through a lot of hoops to get in front of 10 CEOs.
  7. Be prepared to offer a serious discount for local business. I offer 30-50% off my fee because I can speak locally without the added day of travel stress I get when I fly around the country.

-- Peggy Duncan

I started doing this last year. I knew I'd stand a better chance of getting sponsors if I partnered with an organization that already had a track record. I was already a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) volunteer and offered the idea of having a series of major events for small business owners that focused on the reasons they fail. Major successes! Getting major sponsorship was easy as pie, and because they're a non-profit, we're able to get free publicity. The Small Business Administration, local chambers, and other organizations fully support it. We're about to have our third event in an auditorium that will be filled to capacity. The sponsors defray costs, so we offer the events for free.

As a volunteer, I don't make money from the event itself, but I sell my products, and am getting the kind of local training business I've wanted (small businesses are not my target, but the publicity as producer of the events has taken me right to corporate). To streamline making this happen, I've organized everything in a control book and automated processes using technology.

-- Kare Anderson

Four speakers and other experts in our Marin County offered four 40-minute modules, two each evening, beginning at 6:30 (each presenter led one), and recruited locally-owned businesses with this offer, if they would sponsor us: they could have a private session with us, for up to eight of their staff and invite up to 10 of their staff and/or clients to attend two or more of the modules.

Our sponsors were a locally-owned bank (eight branches), grocery store (nine outlets) and real estate firm (14 offices). We kept costs down by having the events at the bank branch, which the managers loved. The grocery store provided snacks and beverages. All outlets promoted the event at their locations. A rep from the sponsors introduced us. We co-created a tips booklet in print and as PDF that the bank included in its monthly statement, along with an invitation. Each sponsor got copies of our books and tapes to give away to their customers, with the sponsors' names stickered on the covers.

We also co-authored four columns for local shopper newspaper that noted the sponsor names. Explaining the many ways we wanted to make their names visible as sponsors helped us get their underwriting.

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